Geneva: a word of caution
By Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamutu
As the dates for the talks in Geneva approach and
preparations go ahead, it is worth reminding ourselves as to
what is at stake. This is important, since a clear
understanding as to what the talks are about will ensure that
unrealistic and exaggerated expectations will not be raised
and that the talks are seen in perspective.
The first point to make is that the talks are about the
implementation of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA). The key
word here being "implementation." In this respect the talks in
Geneva are not about the resumption of peace talks as took
place between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the
LTTE from 2002-2004 following the signing of the CFA. The
talks are about the implementation of the CFA.
They are bound by the terms of that agreement and serve as
a measure of the state of the peace process broadly defined.
The inability and unwillingness to move beyond the CFA and
arrive at agreements culminating in a final negotiated political
settlement has taken its toll on the CFA itself.
This has brought us in a sense to square one — a single
issue agenda for the resumption of direct talks with that
single issue being the implementation of the CFA. There is no
detracting from the importance and value of the resumption
of direct talks between the GOSL and the LTTE. However it
should be seen in context and perspective.
The importance of the CFA is that it should provide the spring
board for negotiations regarding a political settlement. It
should not be self contained and an agreement in itself which
does not provide the trust, confidence and impetus for
movement to the ultimate objective — the negotiated peace
Geneva will therefore provide the opportunity to commence
the trust and confidence building required between the new
administration and the LTTE. Of course the best
demonstration of this would be an agreement on the full
implementation of the CFA. This may not be possible in two
days of talks and therefore the indicator of success may well
turn out to be an agreement on a timetable for further talks.
It is not inconceivable that the first round will entail an airing
of grievances by both sides before they get down to
prioritising the areas of the CFA that they should address.
This in turn, if trust and confidence building is the
overarching objective, may entail dealing with the issues that
register the least amount of disagreement first before moving
to the seemingly intractable ones.
This column has pointed out the importance of Articles 1.2,
1.8 and 2.1 as far as these negotiations are concerned. The
LTTE in particular is bound to focus on para-militaries and
the High Security Zones (HSZs). It is not clear as to what the
GOSL strategy is going to be with regard to these issues or
indeed regarding the talks in general.
We are told that preparation including discussions with
previous negotiators and conflict resolution experts from
abroad have and are taking place. Included in this, according
to media reports, are prominent lawyers who have been both
severe critics of the LTTE and of federalism.
Whilst there is no automatic assumption that the GOSL will
take what can be described as a hard and unyielding stand at
Geneva and thereby make trust and confidence building
more difficult to attain, it is the hope of this columnist that the
negotiating team will have a clear idea as to the overall
strategic objective of the talks and that trust and confidence
building will be an integral part of it.
There may be some who will argue that trust and confidence
building is a euphemism for appeasing the LTTE and
capitulating to them. This is not the case. The issue of
strategic objectives and options is about identifying interests
and the opportunity costs in their pursuit. Any collapse of
trust and confidence such as there is, inability and
unwillingness to build and strengthen trust and confidence,
will prolong the current situation and increase the likelihood
of a return to full scale hostilities.
And the point about the latter, assuming that it will lead not to
further stalemate but to advantage for one side, is that the
prospects for a negotiated political settlement could be
Trust and confidence building have to be founded upon
principle and values and agreement on what it should
ultimately attain. Each side will have an answer to the other’s
allegations and grievances. The challenge will be to be firm
and constructive, to enter into agreements rather than to
It may well be the case that the LTTE will adopt the latter
position at the outset. This only compounds the challenge for
the GOSL. In these circumstances, it is all the more important
that the team knows what its strategic objective is. This may
not be sufficient, but is certainly necessary for these talks
and beyond. The "beyond" may well depend on it.
[The Morning Leader]